(photo credit: Bloomberg)
In 18th-century Britain, it was customary to tie a string around a smoked fish - which in the curing process turned red in color and pungent in odor - and drag it through the woods to train hunting dogs to follow a trail. At a later stage, the red herring was used to deliberately confuse the hounds to test their ability to stick to their prey's scent or to prolong the foxhunt.
Poachers promptly introduced their own adaptation - exploiting the fishy ploy to send canines in the wrong direction so the outlaws could purloin the game. It didn't take long before fugitives from justice rubbed red herrings across their path to throw tracker dogs off. In the 1920s, the red herring became synonymous in American investment banking with a rosy business prospectus published with obvious intent to defraud.
In 21st-century Israel, an assemblage of political fugitives from the voters' verdict uses the same reeking distraction to prolong their stints in office, to confound the pursuing electorate and to dupe the dupable with a new rosy promotion called the Kadima leadership primary.
THAT UBER-HYPED primary is nothing but a red herring - of the biggest, ugliest, foulest variety - even though it's being calculatingly misrepresented as the harbinger of a new pretty, fragrant, hopeful dawn.
To hear its sponsors, the Kadima primary will bring the country a new premier - sans bothersome elections. Kadima's alternative pick will offer us all a blemishless fresh beginning, a bright promise, cleansed of Ehud Olmert's odium. How appealing and persuasive. Almost like the dodgy prospectus. And just as dishonest.
Copywriters for Kadima's pro-primary PR proliferate. They include all those among Olmert's underlings who now seek to sack and succeed him, all the Kadima flunkies whose reelection chances are nil, Laborite accomplices leery of early elections and media omniscients who had wholeheartedly enlisted in the mission to prevent a Bibi comeback and who have made it their holy crusade.
Our supercilious scribblers and voluble talking heads have, with unswerving alacrity, consistently boosted any anti-Likud candidate - be he Peres, Barak, Mitzna, Sharon or Olmert.
In the imagery of the Left's darling commentator Amnon Abramowitz, the previously vilified Sharon was protected by members of the press "like a precious etrog" (Succot citron) so long as he promised to implement their agenda in direct contravention of the platform on which he had run. Journalist-turned-Labor Knesset member Shelly Yacimovich confessed: "All of us in the media wanted Bibi to lose."
Most media trendsetters still avidly do, regardless of their professed loathing for Olmert and regardless of what they really think of his Kadima coterie. That's why they extol Kadima's election-postponing primary. Some things are more important than the truth.
CONSIDERING THE flagrant penchant for corruption demonstrated by Kadima's hotshots, along with their administration's colossal failures in every conceivable sphere - from the Second Lebanon War, the shameful capitulation to Hizbullah and Hamas, the rescuing of Syria from imposed isolation and all the way to the looming water shortage and higher education crises - any alternative to quick new elections is unscrupulous. Any scheme to bypass public opinion and crown another Kadima luminary in place of Olmert is unconscionable.
Olmert didn't run on his own and didn't personally charm us out of our minds. He headed a partisan list which in the words of his second-fiddle Tzipi Livni was "established to decontaminate Israeli politics." No less. Hence, when that party's tenure goes so disastrously and undeniably awry, the consequences cannot merely be borne by the headliner. The party which fielded Olmert, supported him and acquiesced to his most bungling decisions cannot wash itself of him and expect to avoid the citizenry's judgment by propping one of his sunshine sidekicks in his stead.
That would be the ultimate red herring, drawn under our noses to keep us from smelling Kadima's collective repulsiveness and to keep Olmert's understudies from assuming the penalties of collective responsibility for the faults of a government in which they served and continue serving. The Winograd Committee concluded in no uncertain terms that "the entire government failed in conducting the Second Lebanon War."
Those who carelessly nodded their consent during that fumbled war and throughout Olmert's term cannot self-righteously and retroactively perfume themselves and pretend to have been entirely removed from its intense stench. Livni, Shaul Mofaz and fellow Kadima opportunists cannot protest their innocence after having blithely cheated those who voted for an unequivocally hawkish Likud in 2003 but were soon forced to watch helplessly as the proto-Kadima crew adopted the very defeatist policies which the electorate decisively thrashed at the polls.
Thereafter Livni et al. pooh-poohed (contrary to their own explicit undertakings) the Likud referendum's unambiguous anti-disengagement result. Livni & Co. cheered disengagement in obedient unison, and now claim to still not discern any link between what they unethically wrought and the post-disengagement emergence of Hamastan, with its attendant rocket barrages from Gaza. The Left applauds them. My colleague Larry Derfner portrays Livni as "the one great white hope remaining for the Left" as "she would fit comfortably in the ranks of Peace Now."
Moreover, Livni uttered not a peep of protest when Ariel Sharon's electioneering scam was exposed by the state comptroller. Sharon's Greek island scandal and Cyril Kern imbroglio didn't perturb her. It may now belatedly prove expedient to ditch Olmert, but Kadima ranks also sported other defendants - Haim Ramon, Avraham Hirchson, Tzahi Hanegbi, Ruhama Avraham-Balila and Eli Aflalo. The latter two prodigies have just been rewarded for their factional loyalty and were both upgraded to lucrative cabinet posts with no dissent from Kadima's would-be new leaders. Yet Olmert's wannabe substitutes claim not to sniff anything faintly fetid about their own role.
BOTTOM LINE: Political hygiene would hardly improve by the triumph of any of the much-touted Kadima primary contenders. They may claim to tread virtuously on the moral high ground but they all - and their Labor enabler Ehud Barak - know full well that all their primary is meant to secure is a replacement for Olmert without regard to public opinion. Their unadmitted aim is to shun elections and preempt a Netanyahu victory. That dishonorable end justifies all dishonorable means.
The subtext is that elections are bad for democracy and that evading them is the paramount democratic objective.
Israel's severely desensitized public, of course, isn't supposed to figure that out. Susceptible Israelis have long been brainwashed to perceive primaries as the essence of democracy, so who'd guess that a primary would be premeditated expressly to thwart the fundamental democratic process? Who'd suspect it of being the proverbial red herring?
But that's the nature of the smelly decoy - to divert attention from what really matters. In our specific current case it is that the country's most incompetent government ever mustn't be allowed to survive by sprouting a new head. It must return its mandate forthwith to the people and let them cast their ballots.
Any other subterfuge is a stinky, nasty red herring.
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